I know a little more about restaurants and watering holes than I do hotels. I consider myself something of a restaurant hound (always looking for a new place) and have been eating out every day in this area for nearly 16 years. In addition, I have been known to have “discussions” in tiki bars on an occasion, or on many occasions. One of the benefits of living in a tourist destination like Clearwater is that there are a lot of great restaurants and watering holes and they are opening and closing every day. One of the things I have learned over the years is that restaurant preferences have a lot to do with personal taste. I like to think my taste is impeccable, but I can accept the fact that everyone’s is not the same. Everyone doesn’t have the same taste, or enjoy the same atmosphere. The restaurants that I mention here are ones that I have eaten in and enjoyed their food and atmosphere. I tend to be a less than formal kind of guy. Putting on a buttoned shirt, long pants and shoes is what I consider formal and can be an evening killer. I enjoy watching people and prefer a less formal setting with a busy atmosphere.
I haven’t included any of the national chains because we all know what they are and most of them are here, but I don’t think that they are reflective of the community. In addition, I didn’t include directions to the restaurants because it would take up a book and we are all on the internet and you can find all of them easily on the computer maps.
There are a lot of fancy places with a more formal atmosphere that are excellent. I still think that the best is the Salt Rock Grill on Indian Shores Island. I also like Island Way Grill on Island Estates, and Bon Appetite in Dunedin. They all have an excellent waterfront view with good outside dining areas, great service and the food is excellent. The Salt Rock Grill and Island Way Grill are owned by the same people and they have their own fishing fleet that goes out every day. I have also enjoyed dinner at the Beachcomber on Clearwater Beach. These places are going to be a little more expensive than the others. I recommend reservations at these places.
A restaurant that I have never eaten at, but is really nationally famous is over in Tampa. If you want a great steak and excellent atmosphere, and really don’t care how much it costs, Bern’s is the place. One interesting thing about this place is that they are also known for their deserts. When you enter they will take a reservation for your desert and you actually go to another room for the desert. I suggest you wear long pants and shoes. Reservations are definitely necessary.
Another upper end restaurant that is different is the Columbia Restaurant. They are a Florida Chain and there are 5, or 6 of them throughout the state. The one that I prefer in this area is on Gulf Blvd. in Sand Key. The cuisine is Cuban and upscale. They have a great view of the bay there.
There are a ton of these places. It seems like I am discovering o new one every day. These are really the places I eat at the most. They feature things like fancy sandwiches with a Caribbean flavor and great seafood mixtures. Frenchy has 4 restaurants on Clearwater Beach and one in Dunedin. By far, Rockaway is the biggest tourist restaurant on the beach. It is located right on the beach and has a great view of the sunset. The Pub in Indian Shores has a nice deck to eat outside on and is a big favorite of boaters. They can tie up there and eat. I enjoy Gator’s on John’s Pass for an afternoon sandwich. You can sit there on the dock and watch the dolphins fish. They feature a heavy metal type music at night and the place can come a little unhinged.
I find that I eat most often at Clear Sky on Clearwater Beach than anywhere else. I eat there at least once a week and often twice a week. The menu is more diverse than most of the smaller restaurants and it is all good. They have a second restaurant in Dunedin that has become a big favorite among locals and now they have just opened a third location in downtown Clearwater. I write a lot of my Clearwater Updates sitting in these three restaurants.
Another one of my most favorite places is the Café Alfresco on Main street in Dunedin and can recommend it for the whole family. If you like good sandwiches, I like to go to Rumbas on Gulf to Bay. I usually go there when the weather is good. They have a nice outdoors area and the inside is kind of small. My favorite Irish Pub is by far O’Keefe’s on FT. Harrison. The food is great and the menu is large. If you are here on St. Paddy’s day, it is a place to visit. There is a place in the Clearwater Marina that has a small menu, but the food is great. It is at the far end of the Marina and looks like a rundown shack, but the restaurant is all on warfs over the bay at the end of the marina. IT’s called the Bait House. If you come in off of a charter and get the charter crew to clean the fish, the Bait House will cook it for you. Anyone who tries this, I am interested in knowing how it came out.
A different kind of place is Ozona Blue in Ozona. They have a nice pool there and on a nice day you can swim and the servers will serve your meals and drinks poolside. Surrounded by yachts, It’s a little hard to find. It sits on the far side of the parking lot of the Ozona Marina.
The area is not a strong hold of Mexican food, however it is improving. The restaurant that I like best is Los Mexicanos on Gulf Blvd in Indian Rocks Beach. You may not want to try it on a cold day, I don’t think they have any heat there. By the way, this is true of a lot of Florida establishments. A place I have enjoyed on Clearwater Beach is the Spotted Donkey, on the street side of the Hilton. Tequila’s on Fort Harrison St. has become popular for the downtown set. Their prices are reasonable.
Cesare on Clearwater Beach is generally thought of as one of the best places in the area. I personally have never been there, they are only open at night as is Villa Gallace on Indian Rocks Beach. It is a favorite of several Phillie ball players. For a formal atmosphere, I prefer Alfano’s on FT. Harrison Road in Largo. A little less formal, I usually go to either Copogna’s Dugout, or Cristino’s. I really enjoy the pizza at Copogna’s.
There are a lot of places that do breakfast well. Most of the hotels do a breakfast buffet, but I like my eggs fried, over easy and those buffets feature scrambled. They are also more expensive. Lenny’s around the corner from the ballpark on the 19 service road is very popular and kind of down home. They call it a New Jersey diner whatever that is. You may have to wait there, especially on weekend mornings. Clear Sky is probably the most popular breakfast place on the beach. You may have to wait for a table. Their one in Dunedin is very popular and are known for their breakfast margaritas. There are diners on just about every corner and most are good. A couple of the “family restaurants that I personally prefer are the Venus Restaurant on West Bay Drive and the Home Plate in Dunedin.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach. At least 5 times a week, I go to the beach and walk the length of it and back. It is two miles and usually takes me a good 40 minutes. When I am done, I am ready for a libation and retire to the ”Palm”. I spend two to three hours reading a good book and drink cokes, or discussing world shaking events while sitting along the rail. Oh, ok, I also evaluate bikinis. It is a top watering hole and they also have very good Floribean food. I think their Palm Burger is the best burger on the beach. They also hire two bands each day to provide live entertainment. What they really have is the best place to watch the sunset during happy hour. It is a complete unobstructed view.
A different kind of place is Jimmy’s Crow’s nest on top of the Pier 60 Hotel next to the Clearwater Marina. It is 8 floors up and has a great unobstructed view of Clearwater Bay. One note the wind can be in a hurry up there and a jacket might be wise. There are currently a slew of watering holes opening in the new hotels. They are mostly in the southern half of the island and I haven’t had a chance to try them out yet.
In addition, Clearwater is the home of the original Hooters restaurant. It is on Gulf to Bay on the East side of 19. I don’t care for their menu, but it is popular. There are others around the community. The college set usually gravitates towards Shepherd’s on Clearwater Beach. Boats come and anchor there. They often have things like wet T shirt and bikini contests there. Note: they also charge a cover charge to get in. The Brown Boxer has become very popular and has several locations. The one on Mandalay is the most popular.
This is just a short list. I am open to your favorites. Maybe you will find a new favorite for me. If you have a favorite place, feel free to jump in. Also, I will be happy to answer any questions, if I can.